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Lago Navona
Lago di Piazza Navona

This is a postscript to our post on the sewer zeppelins and artificial lakes of Rome.


Every weekend during the sweltering month of August, from 1652 until 1866, the drains of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi were blocked so that the waters would overflow and flood much of Piazza Navona, a sort of aqueous reincarnation of the naumachiae, or mock naval battles, that were once staged on the same site more than a thousand years ago. Or perhaps this aberrant hydrology was an attempt to mimic the floodplains of the real Quattro Fiumi. It could even be described as the temporary, theatrical reemergence of the marshy landscape on which the Eternal City was built.

In any case, it was one of the most popular midsummer festivals in Rome, the “merriest of them all,” according to the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Members of the nobility and gentry came in droves in their carriages. Watched by gazers crowding the shores of this artificial lake or looking out from the windows of the palaces surrounding the piazza, princes and nobles would parade side by side with peasants and farmers around and around the water's shallow periphery or crisscross across deeper parts. It probably didn't take long until the water became just a dirty puddle, but one could still churn up microgusts of cooling breezes. On the dry portions of the piazza, entertainments were set up, as well as booths for refreshments.

This urban hydro-spectacle would go on all day, until sunset, sometimes even into the night. Then the piazza was drained, and the water once again contained in its Baroque basin.


As a postscript to this postscript, check out Millennium Park's Crown Fountain, whose seasonal artificial lake swarms with hyperactive, overheated, giggle-infected kids (and adults) every summer.

Once a year, after a multi-million dollar renovation, the twin spouts of Crown Fountain will be allowed to gush out as though they were gigantic fire hoses, flooding the entire park. Frank Gehry's sunken pavilion becomes an inland sea in which concert goers ply the waters on gondolas. The Lurie Gardens transform into a wetland prairie. Anish Kapoor turns into an island. The new Nichols Bridgeway is repurposed as a water slide. And everywhere waterfalls cascade down Neoclassical stairs.

That or truck in a few dumpster pools as counter-pavilions to the two pavilions commissioned for the anniversary celebrations of Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago.

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